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Organizations Need Help Year-round to Provide Food for Those in Need

Oct 30, 2015 03:08PM ● Published by Shelly Tower Rushe

Each year at the holidays, the importance of providing food for individuals and families in need moves to the forefront. At a time when extravagant meals, copious treats and inevitable waste may seem normal to most of us, many are struggling to find enough food just to feed their families.

Local food banks and shelters know that the need is higher at this time of year. “Around the holidays, increased heating costs and holiday expenses mean that sometimes the money for food isn’t there,” explained Beth Snyder, public relations coordinator with the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

Each year, the food bank, a member of Feeding America, distributes more than 29 million meals through their network of more than 400 member pantries in 11 counties. “The need is closer to 60 million meals, and these aren’t homeless or destitute people,” Snyder explained.

This phenomenon, known as ‘food insecurity,’ happens when families or individuals have a place to live, oftentimes a job, but are struggling to properly feed themselves or their families. “They may be choosing medicine over food or watering down formula to make it last longer. Their kids may be eating at school but not at home,” said Snyder. According to Feeding America, 14 percent of the families in Allegheny County and 11 percent in Butler County are food insecure at some point.

Kate Wadsworth, public relations and after-care manager with Light of Life Missions, sees this need on a daily basis. “We are open every day of the year for breakfast and dinner, and open to anyone with a need,” she said.

The Light of Life soup kitchen opened in 1952, but the organization soon expanded to assist homeless men, women and children with food, housing and addiction programs. Each year, staff provides two meals per day through the soup kitchen as well as a traditional Thanksgiving feast and a Christmas banquet held on Dec. 23. “Some people think that coming to a homeless shelter for a holiday might be sad, but the feeling is love,” said Wadsworth.

Besides the meals available on site, Light of Life works with nonprofits and churches to provide Thanksgiving meals to those in need. “We take turkey, stuffing, everything you’d need for a Thanksgiving meal. We wrap it up and our partner organizations deliver it to families,” Wadsworth explained.

During the holidays, the food bank holds several food drives. Their largest is Fall FoodShare, held Oct. 22-Nov. 25. Held in partnership with Giant Eagle and Citizens Bank, volunteers hand out lists of nonperishable items to shoppers in Giant Eagle store lobbies. “We appreciate anyone who can volunteer their time to hand out lists or anyone who makes a donation, whether food or funds,” said Snyder. “Every dollar donated equals five meals through our distributors, though kids sometimes connect better with ‘look at this box of donations we filled.’”

Both Wadsworth and Snyder praise their volunteers for all of the time, effort and donations they provide, but ask that those who want to help call ahead. Volunteers need to be scheduled, and those looking to donate goods can be given a list of the most-needed items as well as convenient drop-off locations.

While a lot of attention is paid to feeding people at the holidays, both Snyder and Wadsworth stress the need for year-round help. Options for students who typically only eat at school include weekend backpack programs and summer food programs, and Light of Life encourages donations of leftovers from parties and weddings to help fulfill their daily meal needs.

Other ways to help throughout the year include:
  • assisting with the food bank’s gleaning program by helping to harvest leftover produce from local farms;
  • donating part of the crops from your home garden to the Community Harvest program which serves local food banks;
  • volunteering to assist in a food bank store, Produce to People or packing backpacks for students;
  • and participating in a Samaritan Supper where you provide a full meal to Light of Life with your work, church, family or other group. 

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